I am only a doctor of law, but I can tell you: That is not good.
Big Data Reaps Big Rewards
Like many Americans, you probably tuned into the 2012 Olympic Games in London. One of the events that garnered a lot of attention was Team Pursuit Cycling in the “Velodrome”. The U.S. women’s team surprised many people when it came out of nowhere to capture the Silver medal. In the months leading up to the Olympics, the women’s team was putting up times during competition and training that would have left them well off the medal podium. In a short amount of time, the team shaved upwards of 5 seconds (which is an eternity in this event) off their mark. How did they do it? According to a documentary premiering on May 16 at the Seattle International Film Festival, the team owes its thanks, in some part, to Datameer, a big data analytics tool. The team began using fitness/sleep trackers, medical devices, and DNA testing to collect mountains of data on how their bodies were responding to training, and different factors in their lives (e.g., diet and sleep). The team then turned to Datameer to help analyze that data and try to identify patterns and inefficiencies in the way the athletes trained or prepared for training. Full disclosure: my wife works for Datameer and, prior to the 2012 Olympics, got to travel to the team’s training facility to help produce this video:
She had a great time at the Velodrome and I can’t wait to see this documentary, demonstrating how “data, not doping” can improve athletic performance. -TOB
Source: “How the U.S. Women’s Cycling Team Transformed Itself With Technology”, Tom Taylor, Sports Illustrated (05/14/2015)
Show Her the Money!
On the court, the NBA is in the midst of its most entertaining stretch of the season – the playoffs, and there things are good. Off the court, however, a storm is brewing. In October, the NBA signed a new TV rights deal with ESPN and TNT – $2.7 billion dollars per year (starting in 2016), nearly triple the size of the previous deal, signed in 2007. That should mean sunshine and roses for all involved – after all, the players are guaranteed around 49% of basketball related income (BRI). More money from the TV deal means more money to be divided up by the players. However, the Players’ Union was smoked by the League in the last two rounds of labor negotiations (e.g. prior to the 2011 deal, the players were guaranteed 57% of BRI, and gave back that 8% to save the season) and they are looking to get some of that back, among other concessions. Last summer, the Union selected Michele Roberts, an extremely successful attorney with little sports experience, to be its new executive director. Roberts is the first female head of any major American sport’s players’ union. As she told the players in her pitch to select her: “I bet you can tell I’m a woman. My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.” No wonder she was a near-unanimous selection.
Immediately, Roberts came out swinging – setting the stage for an absolute labor war with Adam Silver, the NBA’s new commissioner, and the owners. Roberts has begun with a PR battle. “The (league has) done a great job promoting the notion that the owners make all the investments and take all of the risks and barely make a dollar … One of the things that I have on my list, that I will absolutely not go to my grave until I correct, is responding to that narrative.” She has a point: The value of NBA franchises has soared recently. Just six years ago, the New Jersey Nets were purchased for $365 million. They are presently valued at $1.5 billion, and would likely sell for over $2 billion on the open market. Pretty good ROI.
But Roberts’ job is not an easy one and her biggest problem may arise from within her own ranks. Although she has enlisted the help of stars LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony, NBA players have little incentive to pass up the kind of money that a work stoppage requires. “The problem is that basketball players have an average career of four years and an average salary of $5 million per year,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. “Given that and given that these guys love to play basketball, they don’t really have the basis to stay unified for a substantial period of time. They’re saying, ‘You want me to risk half a season so my salary could go from $5.1 million to $5.2 million?’ That’s going to be Michele Roberts’s main challenge.”
I have been on the union’s side in sports labor fights since the first one I can remember – the 1994 baseball strike. As Roberts points out, “It’s mind-boggling to me that people think that the players make too much. There would be no money if not for the players. Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money. If not for the players. They create the game.” Good luck, Michele. You’re going to need it -TOB
Source: “Outside Shooter”, Max Chafkin, The Atlantic (May 2015)
PAL: Roberts is right, but Zimbalist is more right. While owners have nothing to do with what I like most about the sport – a LeBron chase-down block, a Steph Curry 3 from 29 feet, Paul Pierce going to the well one last time – the stars aren’t the players most impacted by rev share. It’s not about the difference between $20M and $25M; it’s about the difference between $3M and $4M. Are aging, financially set stars whose main concern is their legacy on the court really going to give up a season for the seventh man in the rotation?
NBA Draft Reform
Tanking for draft position has been around for a long time. Way back in 1985, the NBA instituted the Draft Lottery to discourage teams from tanking for the opportunity to draft Patrick Ewing. The lottery has been in place, with some variations, ever since. In recent years, there have ever-growing calls for reform, to remove the incentive to tank. The fact is, tanking remains the best way for a bad team to get better, and as long as that is true, bad teams will have incentive to be even worse than they are. One proposed solution is known as “the wheel” sets draft order based on a rotating schedule, known years in advance. I hate this idea – because while tanking is disheartening as a fan, it at least offers hope. If your team is bad and you don’t have the hope of a high draft pick, following your team is the not fun.
Enter the “You’re the Worst” Plan, as proposed in this article. In short, before a season, teams would select, in reverse order of their finish from the previous season, the team they think will have the worst record the following season. In the draft the following summer, you would then have that team’s draft position (teams could not pick themselves). For example, the Timberwolves had the worst record in the NBA this season. They’d pick first. If they think the Sixers will have the worst record next year, they’d take the Sixers. If the Sixers had the third worst record next season, then the Timberwolves would draft third.
There would still be some incentive to tank, because it would give you an earlier pick to select the worst team, but the reward is far less immediate and far less concrete. After all, a team could end up being a lot better than you hoped. Plus, the possibility of bad blood between teams would be fantastic, and the selection process would make for amazing television. I’m in! -TOB
Source: “The NBA Draft Is Broken: Here’s How to Fix It”, Seth Stevenson, Slate (05/13/2015)
PAL: A list of #1 draft picks since 1999 (I’ve italicized the ones I think have proven to be franchise players):
- 1999: Elton Brand
- 2000: Kenyon Martin
- 2001: Kwame Brown
- 2002: Yao Ming
- 2003: LeBron James
- 2004: Dwight Howard
- 2005: Andrew Bogut
- 2006: Andrea Bargnani
- 2007: Greg Oden
- 2008: Derrick Rose
- 2009: Blake Griffin
- 2010: John Wall
- 2011: Kyrie Irving
- 2012: Anthony Davis
- 2013: Anthony Bennett
- 2014: Andrew Wiggins (TBD)
All involved have been happy with the results of 5/16. Let’s be honest – I’ll take a 31% chance at LeBron, Anthony Davis, or even Blake Griffin. In that same 16 years, six teams have won NBA Championships: Spurs (Duncan), Lakers (Kobe), Pistons, Heat (Wade + Shaq/LeBron), Dallas (Dirk), and Celtics. The Pistons, Celtics, and the Heat (Shaq and LeBron pairing with Wade) did it with free agents as cornerstones of the team. It’s cheaper to draft greatness, but ultimate success is still a crap shoot. I get why the Sixers are tanking (now in its third year?), but there’s a shelf life and a limited amount of patience, and I think the team has less than one year to start showing some flashes of improvement. All of this is to say that, of all the proposed changes to the lottery, I think I like the true lottery option the best. Every team that doesn’t make the playoffs gets the same odds of winning the first pick in the next draft.
Jered Weaver: Total Killjoy
Jered Weaver sucks. I know because I have him in a fantasy keeper league. He’s got enough of a name that I don’t want to outright drop him, but he has zero trade value. After getting rocked in just about every start this season, I benched him for his start against the then-hot Houston Astros last weekend. Of course, he threw a complete game shutout and had the most K’s he’s had in you a game all season. Dillhole. So how does this guy celebrate?
By getting legitimately angry at his teammates who were just having a little fun. Look at that stare at the 1:03 mark! And how he ends the interview like a petulant child! Man, what a fun teammate he must be. Stupid Jered Weaver. -TOB
Source: “Weaver on Shutout, Gets Doused”, MLB.com (05/08/2015)
PAL: Sounds like someone’s got his panties in a bunch over fantasy sports. I couldn’t disagree with you more on this, TOB. First of all, let’s just chill out on the Gatorade showers. Also about just a pinch of “act like you’ve been there” for a shutout…in May on a team that’s currently .500. I guarantee you Pujols and other veterans sided with Weaver. What’s more, I honestly think Weaver handles the situation really well. He rolls with the hack move Gatorade dousing, but throwing what I assume is a bag of sunflower seeds at him on top of that is: (A) not funny or entertaining, (B) overkill after the dousing, and (C) an aggressive, dick 12 year-old move. Weaver takes a moment to gather himself (the camera zoom doesn’t help here), gives a polite, canned answer to get out of the interview, and ducks down into the clubhouse where he can light into some idiot for acting like a moron.
Has King James Left the Building?
For around a decade, LeBron James has been the best basketball player on the planet. He led the Miami Heat to four straight NBA Finals, winning two, before returning to Cleveland last summer. When he returned, though, something seemed off. Was it the hair plugs? Well, yes, those looked odd. But LeBron didn’t seem as explosive. He was more content to take jump shots than to get to the rim. He seemed less aggressive, less focused. People openly questioned if he was finally on the decline. Now, with the regular season behind us, we can evaluate – did LeBron’s game change? As it turns out, it did. Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry uses statistical analysis (noticing a trend?) to show that LeBron did shoot more jumpers this year and did attack the rim less. Is he in decline? Or was it a one-year blip? And where does his game go from here? -TOB
Source: “The King’s Burden: Saving the Cavs Has Changed LeBron James”, Kirk Goldsberry, Grantland (05/13/2015)
PAL: “One of the most interesting things about superstars is watching them change their games in the face of decreasing athleticism. It’s the most human thing about them.” As Goldsberry captures in this piece, it’s fascinating to watch a supreme athlete be so open to evolving his game. Fascinating – yes – but it will never be better than watching a guy at his peak. Also, carve out 8 minutes and watch the video of LeBron working on post moves with Hakeem. Hakeem still has it in his fifties. That’s one graceful big dude.
Video of the Week
In honor of Corey Kluber’s ridiculous 8-inning, 18-strikeout, 0-walk, 1-hitter this week, check out the above video of young Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game against the Astros in 1998. Filthy. Nasty. And that ‘Stros lineup was legit!
“I bet you can tell I’m a woman. My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”